New York Film Festival Preview: Best Movies, Biggest Events and More

NYFF kicks off on September 29th, and this is your guide to what to look out for at the fest.

Clockwise from top left: Todd Haynes’ May December, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla, Harmony Korine’s Aggro Dr1ft, Michael Mann’s Ferrari and Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things are all playing at this year’s New York Film Festival. 'May December' courtesy of Netflix, 'Priscilla' courtesy of A24, 'Aggro Dr1ft' courtesy of Harmony Korine, 'Ferrari' Lorenzo Sisti courtesy of NEON, 'Poor Things' courtesy of Searchlight Pictures

As September draws to a close, one of New York’s most exciting fall events is opening. The New York Film Festival is returning for its 61st edition on Friday, September 29th, and the fest has plenty to offer.

What are the biggest movies at NYFF?

The New York Film Festival divides its programming into four different sections, with the Main Slate and Spotlight picks encompassing some of the biggest and most exciting movies of the festival season. This year, the Main Slate includes movies like Todd Haynes’ May December, Sofia Coppola’s Priscilla and Michael Mann’s Ferrari, as well as other lauded films like Yorgos Lanthimos’ Poor Things and Justine Triet’s Anatomy of a Fall. It’s a culmination of many of the best movies on the festival circuit, along with some new and exciting titles to explore here.

The Spotlight section tends to be a bit flashier, with hyped-up names behind many of the films. One of the festival’s biggest draws will likely be Bradley Cooper’s Netflix film Maestro, a biopic about Leonard Bernstein starring Cooper himself and Carey Mulligan. The Boy and the Heron, the product of legendary Studio Ghibli creator Hayao Miyazaki’s un-retirement, will certainly bring loyal fans from all five boroughs and beyond. Other exciting entries include Harmony Korine’s experimental Aggro Dr1ft, Nathan Fielder and Benny Safdie’s new series The Curse, and the world premiere of the Saoirse Ronan and Paul Mescal-starring sci-fi drama Foe.

Carey Mulligan as Felicia Montealegre and Bradley Cooper as Leonard Bernstein in Maestro. Jason McDonald/Netflix

Are there any special events?

NYFF is making the most of its Lincoln Center location this year, putting plenty of focus on music. Multiple showings of Maestro will take place in David Geffen Hall, where the New York Philharmonic plays and where Leonard Bernstein spent a great deal of time in his career. The late composer Ryuichi Sakamoto will get a touching documentary tribute with Opus, a recording of a solo concert he performed last year. Yorgos Lanthimos is also sharing a short film entitled Bleat, which will be presented on 35mm film and be accompanied by a live orchestra and chorus. 

Plenty of filmmakers will be at the festival for their movies too. Haynes, Coppola, Mann and Lanthimos will all be doing Q&As for their respective films’ premieres, and other acclaimed directors like Andrew Haigh, Jonathan Glazer, Steve McQueen, Richard Linklater and Pedro Almodóvar will also be taking part in conversations on their work.

Due to the current WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes, don’t expect buzzy premieres like this one from 2021: Corey Hawkins, Moses Ingram, Joel Coen, Frances McDormand, Bertie Carvel, Harry Melling and Denzel Washington (from left) attend the 59th New York Film Festival premiere of The Tragedy Of Macbeth. Photo by Sean Zanni/Patrick McMullan via Getty Images

How do the strikes affect NYFF?

To quote artistic director Dennis Lim at a press preview event last week, “not very much.” As the WGA and SAG-AFTRA strikes rage on, much of the fall promotional season is in flux, but NYFF benefits from its predominantly global and independent picks. At this year’s festival, 45 countries are being represented, and of the American films included, few are made in conjunction with struck companies under the AMPTP. Actors like Cailee Spaeny and Jacob Elordi of Priscilla have been confirmed for the film’s Q&A, and if Venice is any indication, Adam Driver and Penelope Cruz should be on the ground for Ferrari.

But star-studded titles like Poor Things, Maestro, May December and Foe are all struck films. The likes of Emma Stone, Paul Mescal, Julianne Moore and Natalie Portman won’t be gracing Lincoln Center this year, though there remains an off chance that A-lister Bradley Cooper may attend (he can promote Maestro as the director, though he has yet to step on the festival circuit for the film).

Jim Jarmusch designed the poster for the 61st New York Film Festival. FLC Press

What makes NYFF different?

According to Lim, NYFF is “a festival without a competition, a festival without a marketplace,” so it’s a place for the city’s true cinephiles. In addition to the Main Slate and Spotlight sections, the festival features experimental Currents and restored Revivals of older films, as well as a prolific Talks lineup. The schedule is as sprawling and impressive as ever, so audiences will have a great chance to catch something worth seeing.

See the New York Film Festival schedule and buy tickets here.

New York Film Festival Preview: Best Movies, Biggest Events and More